Three years after ComfortDelGro Corp raised its retirement age to 67, the transport giant sees no downside to having older workers.
In a sector where stamina, alertness and vigour are prized prerequisites, ComfortDelGro has found its older workers not wanting.
Today, slightly more than 3 per cent of its 12,400 employees in Singapore are at least 65 years old. And about 10 per cent are between 60 and 64 years old.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, its head of human resource, Ms Daisy Chan, said this group is not more prone to absenteeism, mishaps or poor performance. In fact, older workers "possess a strong sense of commitment and work ethics, which we hope younger colleagues can emulate".
"Older workers are also valuable in mentoring and coaching younger workers and in transferring knowledge to augment the training and developmental efforts of the company."
ComfortDelGro first raised its retirement age from 62 to 65 in 2012. A year later, this was raised to 67. This also applies to workers at local subsidiaries such as SBS Transit and Vicom.
Yesterday, rival transport operator SMRT announced that it was extending the re-employment contract age for its bus captains to 69.
Ms Chan said raising the ceiling is a "win-win situation".
"For the employees, raising the retirement age enables them to keep active while being able to support themselves financially," she said.
"As an employer, we see value in continuing to tap on the experience, knowledge and skills, maturity and reliability of older workers to strengthen our workforce capabilities."
Also, the transport industry has long found it hard to hire and retain Singaporean workers.
To encourage staff to keep working beyond 62, ComfortDelGro does not reduce their salaries, bonuses and benefits as long as their job scope is unchanged.
And even after they turn 67, workers who are medically fit are offered yearly contracts.
"We have a 77-year-old who is still working with us from Wednesdays to Sundays from 4.30am to 7.30am," Ms Chan said.
He is in charge of making sure bus drivers - many years younger than him - are physically fit to go on the road each day.
ComfortDelGro chief executive Kua Hong Pak leads by example: He is 72, and still keeps a hectic schedule in Singapore as well as in the group's overseas markets.
Asked if the group would extend its retirement age even further, Ms Chan said: "We are always open to considering policies that result in a win-win situation for both our employees and the company."
NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How has lauded ComfortDelGro's stance, saying: "It's not a small company, and so it's a significant move."
Mr Heng said other businesses should look at taking similar steps, if not company-wide, then perhaps for certain jobs within the firm.
41 years at the wheel and he's still got lots of drive
Mr Lim says he cannot bear to leave the company that has become his second home. (Photo: The Straits Times)
Chief bus captain Lim Yew Huat joined SBS Transit in 1975, when the company - then Singapore Bus Service - was just three years old.
Forty-one years later, he still looks forward to getting behind the wheel each day.
"I love my job," says the robust 65-year-old. "I'm still physically fit. If I can, I would want to work till I'm 70 or 75."
In fact, Mr Lim, one of eight chief bus captains among SBST's staff of some 6,000 bus drivers, says he "cannot bear to leave", and is glad the company moved the retirement age to 67. "This company has become my second home."
His duties include training and mentoring new drivers, as well as filling in whenever a route needs a driver. "I've mastered over 40 routes," he says with pride.
He does not understand why Singaporeans are generally reluctant to take up the job. "In any job, there are bound to be challenges. You just have to face up to them," he says. "That's what I always say to the new bus captains: Don't listen to all the negative things you hear. Keep your mind open, your chin up and believe in yourself. If you are diligent and steadfast, you will rise in your career."
He adds: "This really isn't a bad job. The buses are so new, modern and comfortable. And I've met so many commuters who have become friends."
There was a traditional Chinese medicine doctor from Australia who was also a Chinese painting artist. "He said he would send me a painting of a horse, but I didn't think much of it.
"I was so surprised and touched when the painting arrived."
He has a photograph of the painting in his mobile phone and points to the calligraphy that read "an excellent bus driver in Singapore".
He recalls an occasion when he helped an elderly woman in a wheelchair up the bus. "I didn't think much of it because it was my duty, but it made an impression on the woman's daughters who were with her.
"They must have called and told another sister who was waiting for them at their destination. She took a photo of me when I pulled up."
Long after the incident, Mr Lim says, one of the sisters who boarded his bus greeted him and asked: "Uncle, do you remember me?"
On another occasion, a commuter invited him to his wedding. The man, a flight steward, had been taking his No. 65 bus since he was in secondary school.
Mr Lim was "very touched", but he did not attend because it was in "a high-class hotel", and he was a sole breadwinner with a modest salary back then.
"But I did deliver small ang pow to his mother."
He says he is "a lot more comfortable financially" these days. For the past 10 years, the family has been holidaying overseas twice a year.
The Lims have two grown-up children - a son, 41, who is a full-time economics tutor; and a daughter, 37, who is a laboratory manager at the Earth Observatory.
"They both have master's degrees... and they are single," he says, adding wistfully that all he longs for now are grandchildren.
This article was first published on August 30, 2016.
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